Eight: Commemorative Plate

Ninety seems an odd date for a commemorative year. Grand recognition events usually occur on the 25-year marks. Even the proximity of the nation’s Bicentennial hardly provides enough collateral reason, that event still being a full year away. The manufacturing and sale of a ceramic plate to mark the occasion also appears incongruous.

A previous plate was designed and sold in 1960 in recognition of the 75th anniversary. In 1965, there was virtually no mention of the church’s founding. No celebrations took place. No stories in the church paper. No mention in the columns written by staff.

Yet a ten-inch plate, with a sketch of the church facility on the front and a “brief history” (actually a short paragraph) on the back was produced and sold as a permanent keepsake in recognition of nine decades of Methodist presence in Midland. Upon closer examination, however, a reason begins to emerge. This celebration, while focused on the origins of the church in the community, was less about history and more about a sense of the need to recognize a watershed moment in the church’s history.

On Sunday, January 26 of 1975, Dr. Timothy Guthrie, Senior Pastor, announced in the 11 am service his plan to retire from the ministry in the near future. He provided few details at that time, but soon clarified that he would retire at the end of the ministerial year in June.

The changing of the pastor, often with little advance notice, was an institutional feature of the Methodist Church. In its earlier years, First Methodist regularly had pastors depart after only a year or two in Midland and even in more recent years, turnover often took place in less that five years. Yet, Dr. Guthrie’s coming had changed that pattern.

Pastor Guthrie arrived in Midland in June of 1957 to become Senior Pastor at First Methodist. He remained in that position for the next 17 years. As the church grew in numbers along with the city of Midland during the prosperous 50’s and 60’s, Dr. Guthrie became an institutional figure in both church and community, partnered with another long-tenured figure, Worship Arts Director George de Hart. He was an important player in the demolition of the 1940’s Sanctuary (which had developed structural problems) and the erection of a new and grander facility, dedicated in 1968.

Then, in 1974, Dr. Guthrie led the congregation in a capital campaign entitled, “One Shining Light” that would be the culmination of a six-year master building plan. A final piece of this was the construction of a “small but extremely useful memorial chapel” on the corner of Main and Illinois where the old sanctuary had once stood. The Glass and Johnson families pledged funds for the proposed chapel as a memorial to long-time faithful church member Mabel Holt Glass. The chapel construction plans included the incorporation of materials (stained glass, sconces, and pews). Mr. and Mrs. Paul Davis underwrote the addition of an organ for the new facility. Construction was well underway in 1975 with completion scheduled by the beginning of the following year.

As plans for Dr. Guthrie’s retirement developed, a parallel project began for a ninetieth anniversary celebration as well. The two were linked, as the Guthries planned to live in Midland following retirement. The April 11th issue of the church paper included a resolution commending Dr. Guthrie for his years of service, enumerating the many projects he had overseen as the church’s leader, and expressing the “love and deep respect” and “gratitude and appreciation” of the congregation.

That gratitude included more than words. Dr. Guthrie was given the unique title of “Pastor Emeritus” and the opportunity to continue working as a Special Associate Member entitled to work “as willing and able” for which he would receive a salary of $210/month. More importantly, he and his wife would be provided a “special parsonage” in which to live. A committee, headed by Stanley Erskine, located a residence at 1401 Country Club Drive. Pat McNair headed the committee to raise the needed funds, which was quickly achieved.

Seven hundred members of the congregation attended the Guthrie retirement reception on May 25. In addition, numerous guests from around the Northwest Texas Conference and beyond were present, reflecting Dr. Guthrie’s prominence among the clergy. Many community leaders also came by to thank Dr. Guthrie for his civic leadership in Midland.

Charles Lutrick received the assignment to assume the pastorate at First Methodist. On June 22, the church held a reception to recognize the new incoming pastor.

That same month, an Anniversary Task Force was created. Ray Gwyn became chairman for the ninety-year observance. Saturday August 23 was scheduled as the big day, with “dinner on the ground,” a display of relics from yesteryear, and a program which included former pastors as speakers. The approaching national Bicentennial had an influence on events. The day would include a performance by a bicentennial band and those attending were encouraged to dress (incongruously) in colonial costume!

Even as the different events of the year transpired, work continued on the Glass Chapel. The dedication took place on February 29, 1976 with the new building filled to overflowing. On March 7, Vespers moved to the chapel. The first weddings were already on the calendar. The Glass Chapel quickly became an integral part of life at First Methodist.

New Pastor Lutrick may have felt a bit like a latecomer to the party but he gamely included comments about historic features of the church in his weekly column in the church paper. Several issues also included historic notes and photographs of the different church buildings provided by Ray Gwyn.

The anniversary event went off successfully. Former pastors Marvin Boyd and Howard Hollowell attended and provided interesting sermons. Everyone attending had a grand time. 

Thus, when the Buddy Wood Class, decided to produce their second commemorative plate, they may have subconsciously been recognizing the dramatically changing present as much as the storied past. While the back of the plate contained a brief note on the church’s mythic origins and listed the various buildings in which Midland Methodists had worshiped, the front included a sketch with the new chapel in place–a profile not there only months before.


NEXT: A New Joy

2 Responses to “Eight: Commemorative Plate”

  1. Cecelia& Bob Davis says:

    Dr. Guthrie baptized both our children in 1962 and 1965. Bob Davis became a member in 1956 when he came to Midland to work for Texaco and became a member of the Single Young Adults Class led by Tom and Faye Edringhton. I, Cecelia Adams came in 1960 to teach physical education at Alamo Junior High School and also joined Single Young Adults Class. We were married in 1961 and have been members since with the exception of 1989-1991 when Bob was transferred to Denver with Texaco.

  2. Cecelia& Bob Davis says:

    Our children were active in Sunday School, choir and all youth activities and our daughter was married in the sanctuary with Dr. Parchman as the pastor in 1992.

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